NPR's new chief moves from Muppet diplomacy to radio

Story highlights

  • Knell is described as a journalist with a long track record in management
  • Knell also prides himself in what he calls "Muppet diplomacy"
  • His predecessor, Vivian Schiller, resigned in March
National Public Radio announced Sunday that former Sesame Workshop CEO Gary Knell will head NPR, replacing Vivian Schiller, who resigned from the post in March.
The announcement, delivered live during Sunday's "All Things Considered" program, described Knell as a journalist with a long track record in journalism, government and management.
According to his official biography, Knell has managed the nonprofit organization that finances PBS' "Sesame Street" for 12 years. Knell, trained as an attorney, began his career working for California's state legislature and the governor's office. He eventually became a counsel to the U.S. Senate judiciary and governmental affairs committees before taking a job with WNET/Channel 13 in New York.
In 1989, Knell became vice president of legal affairs at "Sesame Street."
In his biography, Knell is quoted as saying he is "the only CEO who has to show the Potty-Time Elmo to the board of directors, which can feel really pathetic."
Knell also prided himself in what he called "Muppet diplomacy," working with other foreign broadcasters to produce regionally appropriate versions of "Sesame Street."
Schiller resigned in March after NPR's board concluded that controversies during her administration became the focus of criticism by conservatives who accused NPR of liberal bias.
Schiller's resignation came a day after a former NPR vice president for fund raising, Ron Schiller, was shown in an undercover video calling the Tea Party "racist" and "scary."
Ron Schiller, who is not related to Vivian Schiller, issued an apology and also resigned.
NPR reported in a blog that the video was recorded secretly by activists working with conservative political activist James O'Keefe.
In 2010, NPR also dismissed news analyst Juan Williams after he said on Fox News Channel that he gets nervous when he sees people in "Muslim garb" on an airplane.
According to NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik, who interviewed Knell, NPR's new CEO hopes to "calm the water a bit" and "depoliticize" NPR.
"It's not about liberal or conservative — it's about fairness," Knell is quoted as saying during the interview. "We've got to make the case we're delivering a fair service, not only in the way we do our jobs, but in the way we disseminate the news."